When you cook from a pantry, as I do, flexibility is the name of the game. There’s no way I’m going to drive 25 miles or more to get ingredients on the spur or the moment. So I stock up and use what I have on hand. However, pantry cooking does mean that the time will come when you’re missing some or all of a particular ingredient for a dish.
Let’s say you have your heart set on waffles. Waffles are basically flour, some sort of liquid (almost always dairy, although the very first waffles were more like communion wafers – flour plus water), fat, eggs and leavening. If you’re completely out of flour, sorry – you’re out of luck. But that’s the only crucial ingredient, and if you have even one cup of flour, you can usually manage to make some sort of waffle. The liquid can be milk, buttermilk, cream, yogurt, sour cream or a combination. Fat can be butter, cream (also doing dual duty as liquid), liquid oil, or coconut oil. Cooks in previous generations also used lard — it could really be almost any kind of fat, although some will affect the taste of the waffle.
Myrtle Reed was an author under her pen name, Olive Green. In addition to her romance novels, the best-known of which was Lavender and Old Lace, she wrote a number of cookbooks. I’d say she was a very prolific author, considering she died at the age of 37 and had written at least 30 books. She is known especially for this quote: “The only way to test a man is to marry him. If you live, it’s a mushroom. If you die, it’s a toadstool.” Obviously, Reed knew something about cooking (and it sounds as though she also knew something about men). Here are her waffle recipes, published posthumously in 1916 in the Myrtle Reed Cookbook. As you’ll see, Reed knew well how to substitute and modify. For example, her Swedish, Kentucky and Tennessee waffles rely on eggs for leavening — good choices for those days when you’re out of baking powder and baking soda. Blue Grass waffles will use up that cream that soured and Rice Waffles will disguise the leftover rice from last night’s dinner. Georgia Waffles use buttermilk and lard — no butter needed (I suspect you could substitute coconut oil for the lard). In researching this article, I ran across one recipe that even Myrtle Reed didn’t have, which looks very useful for those days when you only have a cup of flour left — Potato Waffles — although her Indian waffles also need only one cup of flour, and Rice/Corn Waffles need only half a cup. A few hints about waffle-making:
• The iron should be HOT. As with a griddle, drop a few drops of water on the surface. The water should bead up and sizzle. You may find that’s a more accurate indicator than the temperature gauge on an electric waffle iron.
• Even if it’s a non-stick grid (and for your health’s sake, try to find one that isn’t) grease it lightly with lard, tallow or coconut oil. You’ll get a better crust.
• Pay close attention to the mixing instructions. For example, well-beaten egg whites must be gently folded into the batter or they’ll collapse and the waffles will be flat.
Waffles from The Myrtle Reed Cookbook
Blue Grass Waffles
Two cupfuls of thick sour cream, two cupfuls of flour, three eggs well beaten, and half a teaspoonful of soda sifted with the flour. Mix quickly, folding in the stiffly beaten whites of the eggs last, and bake until golden brown and crisp on hissing-hot, well-greased waffle-irons.
Sift together one cupful of flour, three table-spoonfuls of corn starch, and a pinch of salt. Mix one egg, well beaten, one scant teaspoonful of soda, and two cupfuls of sour milk together and gradually combine mixtures, beating hard meanwhile. Bake in hot, well-greased waffle-irons and butter the waffles before serving.
Four cupfuls of milk, three eggs, beaten separately. Add the milk to the yolks and a pinch of salt, then add one and one half tablespoonfuls of rich cream or melted butter and sifted flour enough to make the batter a little stiffer than pancake batter. Add the whites of the eggs last, beaten to a stiff froth, and stir in quickly two teaspoonfuls of baking powder.
Two cupfuls of flour, a pinch of salt, two cupfuls of buttermilk, one cupful of melted lard, one scant teaspoonful of soda, and one egg. Sift the flour and salt together and beat into a smooth batter with the buttermilk. Add the well-beaten egg, then the hot lard, beat thoroughly, add the dry soda, beat hard for a minute or two, and bake in hissing-hot waffle-irons.
One cupful of cold cooked hominy, one egg, well beaten, one tablespoonful of melted butter, one pinch of salt, two cupfuls of milk, and two cupfuls of flour sifted with one teaspoonful of baking powder. Mix thoroughly and bake in very hot waffle-irons, well-buttered.
Raised Hominy Waffles
To one cupful of cold cooked hominy add two cupfuls of scalded milk in which one half a yeast cake has been dissolved, one tablespoonful of butter, melted, a pinch of salt, one tablespoonful of sugar, and two cupfuls of flour. Mix thoroughly and set to rise over night. In the morning add two eggs, beaten separately, folding in the stiffly beaten whites last. Bake in very hot, well-greased irons.
One cupful each of flour and corn-meal, two cupfuls of thick sour milk, one cupful of sour cream, half a teaspoonful of salt, one teaspoonful of soda, two tablespoonfuls of sugar, and two eggs, beaten separately, the stiffly beaten whites being folded in last. Bake in a very hot, well-greased waffle-iron and serve very hot.
Make a smooth paste of two cupfuls of sifted flour and two cupfuls of milk, add one half cupful of softened butter, not melted, then the well-beaten yolks of three eggs, then the stiffly beaten whites, and, just before baking, one heaping teaspoonful of baking powder. Beat very hard for five minutes and bake in a hissing-hot iron.
Beat four eggs separately, the whites to a stiff froth. To the beaten yolks add a pinch of salt, two cupfuls of milk, and enough sifted flour to make a stiff batter. Beat hard until perfectly smooth and free from lumps. Thin the batter by adding gradually the beaten whites of the eggs, and a little more milk in which a level teaspoonful of baking powder has been dissolved. Add lastly one tablespoonful of melted butter or lard. Have the waffle-irons very hot and well-greased, and butter each waffle as soon as done. Crisp light waffles are delicious when served with cream and sifted maple-sugar.
Two cupfuls of sifted flour, two cupfuls of milk, one tablespoonful of melted butter, one tablespoonful of melted lard, two teaspoonfuls of baking powder sifted with the flour, two eggs well beaten, and half a teaspoonful of salt. Beat thoroughly and have the irons hot before mixing.
One cupful of cold boiled rice beaten light with one cupful of milk. Add one tablespoonful of melted butter, half a teaspoonful of soda dissolved in a little of the milk, two eggs well beaten, and enough flour, sifted in with one teaspoonful of cream tartar, to make a thin batter. Beat thoroughly and bake in well-greased waffle-irons. Cream tartar and spices are practically certain to be pure when bought of a druggist instead of a grocer. (Not knocking the groceryman.)
Rice and Corn-Meal Waffles
One cupful of cold boiled rice, one half cupful each of wheat flour and corn-meal, one tablespoonful of melted butter, one half teaspoonful of soda dissolved in hot water, one teaspoonful of salt, two eggs, beaten separately, and enough milk to make a thin batter. The waffle-irons must be very thoroughly greased and the baking must be done with great care, as these waffles are likely to burn.
Two cupfuls of cream, whipped stiff, one half cupful of sugar, one egg beaten with one fourth cupful of cold water, one half cupful of melted butter, and enough flour, sifted, to make a thin batter. Fold the whipped cream in carefully just before baking, and sprinkle with sugar when done.
Two cupfuls of sifted flour, half a teaspoonful of salt, one tablespoonful of melted butter or lard, one egg, beaten separately, and milk enough to make a thin batter. Bake until brown in a well-greased waffle-iron.
Three eggs, well beaten, two cupfuls of milk, one half cupful of melted butter, two teaspoonfuls of baking powder, a pinch of salt, and enough flour to make a thin batter. Bake in hissing-hot waffle-irons.
Mashed Potato Waffles (from Moira Hodgson writing in the New York Times)
• 2 russet potatoes (total weight about 1 1/4 pounds)
• ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
• ⅔ cup milk
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1. Peel and wash potatoes. Cut into small, even pieces and put them in large pot of cold, well-salted water; bring to boil. Lower heat and cook until you can pierce potatoes easily with fork. Drain and reserve about half a cup of potato water. Transfer potatoes to large mixing bowl.
2. Heat olive oil in small skillet over low heat and sauté the chopped onion just until it softens a bit. Pour the oil and onions over the potatoes, then add the milk to the still-warm skillet — just to take the chill off it. Pour the milk over the potatoes.
3. Mash potatoes with oil and milk. Add a fourth cup of warm potato water, reserving the rest, and continue to mash until the mixture is smooth and looser than mashed potatoes you’d serve as a side dish. If it seems stiff, add more potato water, little by little, until you reach the desired consistency. Taste and season liberally with salt and pepper.
4. Preheat your waffle iron. If you want to hold the finished waffles until serving time, preheat your oven to 200 degrees.
5. Finish the batter by beating the eggs into the potatoes. Whisk together the flour and baking powder and fold them into the potatoes with a rubber spatula.
6. Lightly butter or spray the grids of your waffle iron, if needed. Brush or spray the grids again only if subsequent waffles stick.
7. Spoon out a half cup of batter (or the amount recommended by your waffle iron’s manufacturer) onto the hot iron. Smooth the batter evenly almost to the edge of the grids with a metal spatula or wooden spoon. Close the lid and bake until brown and crisp. Serve the waffles immediately or keep them, in a single layer, on the rack in the oven while you make the rest of the batch. Top with basil or rosemary olive oil or butter.